Military Psy-ops, this time illegally directed at Congress

February 24, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More

Keep President Eisenhower’s warning in mind as you read this post.

The U.S. Department of Defense defines “Psychological Operations” or “Psy-Ops” as “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign government, organizations, groups, and individuals.”

Such operations may be based upon truth or based upon deception, but the goal is the same: to alter perceptions and “ultimately the behavior” of others.  As a matter of law, such actions are supposed to be directed against the “foreign hostile groups”, or at least not against Americans.  Unfortunately, this law is routinely ignored:

  • In 2009, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) awarded a multi-million dollar contract to General Dynamics to wage a psy-ops campaign aimed at France and Britain.   The goal of the campaign was to create “influence websites” to build support for the Global War on Terror.
  • New York Times reporter David Barstow was awarded the Pulitizer prize for two articles he wrote in 2008 which exposed the “Pentagon Military Analyst Program“.  The Pulitzer committee awarded the prize for Barstow’s “tenacious” reporting which “revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.”  Glenn Greenwald followed up with typically devastating details about how the major media was silent on the issue, even after the Pulitzer was awarded.  Many in the media reported on a long list of the Pulitzer prize winners that year, in each case somehow neglecting to discuss Barstow’s prize and the reporting for which it was awarded.
  • Image by Rolffimages at dreamstime (with permission)

  • Also in follow-up reporting to the New York Times story, reporter Brad Jacobsen found proof that the propaganda in the program was directed at Americans:
  • Pentagon records show that the day after 14 marines died in Iraq on August 3, 2005, James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, instructed military analysts during a briefing to work to prevent the incident from weakening public support for the war. Conway reminded the military analysts assembled, “The strategic target remains our population.”

  • British news source The Independent reported in 2008 on the release of a new book by author Nick Davies, who argued that “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.”
  • An inspector general’s report released in 2008 faulted the military for “inappropriately” mixing propaganda with their public relations duties.  The report reminded the military that propaganda and public relations “differ with respect to the audience, scope and intent and must remain separate.”
  • Recently, as part of the Wikileaks/Anonymous/HBGary scandal it was revealed that the Air Force was seeking “persona management” software.  According to the article, “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.”

Even with that for background, I was still shocked to see the new story from Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, with details of how members of Congress have now been targeted for Psy-ops.

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

More than crossing a line, I wonder if this is a crossing of the Rubicon.  Congress is supposed to serve as a check on the ability of the Executive branch to wage war.  In this case, the military is expressly seeking to undermine civilian authority by manipulating members of Congress into providing increased funding and troops to fight an increasingly unpopular war.

According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.” The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”


Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.

In March 2010, Breazile issued a written order that “directly tasked” Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against “all DV visits” – short for “distinguished visitor.” The team was also instructed to “prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit.” In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to “take priority over all other duties.” Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.

It’s one thing to manipulate the American public into supporting these wars, but we’re talking about something different and very dangerous– if they weren’t so incendiary, I might be tempted to use the words “treason” or “coup” here.  If even Congress are targets of a propaganda and disinformation campaign, then that undermines the entire concept of civilian command and control of the military, as well as that of our system of checks and balances.

After bringing these concerns to his higher-ups, including a JAG attorney (who advised him that following the orders he had been given was “a bad idea” and “contrary to IO policy”), Lt. Col. Holmes found himself the target of an investigation seemingly designed as a smear and deterrent.  Seeking whistleblower protection, Holmes was told that he did not qualify “because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not ‘designated to receive such communications.'”

As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.

I want to close with a couple of quotations on propaganda, both from Noam Chomsky:

“I think there is a good reason why the propaganda system works that way. It recognizes that the public will not support the actual policies.  Therefore it is important to prevent any knowledge or understanding of them.”

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state”


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Category: Current Events, Law, Media, Orwellian, Propaganda, Whistle-blowers

About the Author ()

is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

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  1. World Spinner | February 24, 2011
  1. Erich Vieth says:

    A multi-source video site called has gathered information and commentary from several sources on this topic of Pys-ops:

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  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's quite a bit more background on this evolving story.

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